At the recent General Conference, talk of a formal church split became more salient. A prominent self-professed centrist pastor suggested a three-way division among liberals, moderates and conservatives. Some liberal voices, frustrated by their declining influence, for the first time publicly sympathized with schism. A formal church split appeals to some as the ostensibly easy solution to nearly half a century of conflict over sexuality.
Except there would be little easy about it. Most United Methodist congregations are not homogeneously liberal or conservative or even centrist. A typical local church has a wide range of perspectives, reinforced by the denomination’s clergy appointment system, in which liberal clergy often are appointed by bishops to more conservative churches, and vice versa. A formal denominational schism would likely mean anguishing division in thousands of United Methodism’s more than 30,000 congregations, accompanied by years of litigation. The ultimate winners would be few.
Maybe such a cataclysmic denominational split for America’s third largest church eventually will occur. (A thoughtful proposal at this year’s General Conference allowing liberal churches that dissent from church teaching on sexuality passed in committee, but it got no plenary vote because of deferral of sexuality legislation to the bishops.) Some hope that the bishops’ new study commission on sexuality will propose formal division.
I expect and prefer a less disruptive scenario….